The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked urgent questions about the impact of pandemics, and the associated countermeasures, on the real economy. Policymakers are in uncharted territory, with little guidance on what the expected economic fallout will be and how the crisis should be managed. In this blog post, we use insights from a recent research paper to discuss two sets of questions. First, what are the real economic effects of a pandemic—and are these effects temporary or persistent? Second, how does the local public health response affect the economic severity of the pandemic? In particular, do non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing have economic costs, or do policies that slow the spread of the pandemic also reduce its economic severity?